by Christina Mavroudis, DCW staff
During the age-out ceremony after semifinals, 22-year-old Peggy Smires, a five-year cymbal player with Jersey Surf, left a nine-page letter detailing her feelings about moving on. Discovered by the clean-up crew, it fell into my hands and I was touched by her obvious love of the activity. After coming off the field at the Division II/III Grand Finals and wearing a white flower sprig like all four age-outs in Jersey Surf, Smires was keeping her emotions in check, barely, as the realization hit her while she pulled thoughts together.
Initially shocked that someone actually read her letter, she then became admittedly comfortable with the idea. “I sat down and just started writing it in the gym — basically a flow of thoughts — but had to move into the girls locker room when they had lights out,” she laughed.
In addition to the letter, Jersey Surf’s cymbal section leader also left cymbals straps. “Any regrets — there are none. There are times you think you could have done something differently or taken a different path, but I know now there isn’t anything I could have done. I aged out with people I should have aged out with. It’s an incredible family and staff.”
Smires had plenty of good things to say about her corps. “Jersey Surf is the most incredible organization, focused on making members better people. Made me think about things I do. Our goal is not about being the best marchers, but really not wasting opportunities. You’ve wasted an amazing opportunity to learn from other people if you just concentrate on marching. You find out about yourself.”
Does she have a specific memory after five years? “How do you pick one after five years?” she asked rhetorically.
One hype she did explain is the necklace around her neck. “Everyone in our line wears necklaces with a piece of cymbal. For the past four years, we’ve made them for the line out of one cymbal with pieces from the logo. If you put all the pieces together, they form a cymbal.”
Recalling her career, she is philosophical. “From first to last year, over time you learn to appreciate things. First year was just hard work. I didn’t appreciate it at all. It was more work than enjoyable. After a number of years, you’re more mature. You soak in the things that you used to hate. It’s part of the journey that’s so important. They tell you [championships] are the moment, but I do it for the journey. The bus rides, cheese sandwiches. That’s the biggest difference.”
With an introspective pause, her youthful candor formulated a profound statement that shows the depth of her insight into the activity: “First year it’s the destination and at the end it’s for the journey.”
On the sidelines, Smires’ mother hovered, eager to grab her daughter in an emotional hug. A look in the eyes, quiet words of praise, the two had their special moment. A bit later, Mrs. Smires was eager to share her thoughts as well. “I didn’t think she’d make it that first year, but she stuck it out and I’m so proud of her.” With that, the two hugged again.
It was a wonderful journey for all.
Here is Peggy’s letter, unedited. It was written on nine-pages of note paper in tight, legible script with near-perfect spelling and lack of corrections. On the top of each page were the printed the words: “There are no endings, only new beginnings.”
I can’t believe I’m actually doing this.
November 27, 1998, I walked into a new world that I knew nothing about. Five and a half years later, I lay here on a gym floor in Denver, CO, completely unable to imagine my life without drum corps. The lessons, the people, the places, the experience. I am a different person; a far better person because of all this activity has given me.
I’ve met people here who I’ll love for the rest of my life. People who I’ll call in 20 years when I’m in a bad spot, and I know they’ll be there. People who, for the rest of my time on earth, I’ll drop everything for if they ask me to. Some have taught me more about myself than I’ve learned outside of here in 22 years. Some I’ve fallen in love with, some I never want to see again. I’ve had instructors open my eyes and my mind and show me exactly who I should strive to be. They’ll always be some of the most respected people in my life. I owe them so much.
I’ve marched next to guys and girls who have become some of the best friends I’ve ever had. They have become my family and we share something that I’ll never expect anyone on the outside to understand.
I’ve learned to be patient. This microcosm so closely mirrors the ‘real world,’ anthills, hurdles, disasters, and all I’ve realized is that nothing is as bad as it seems at that moment and overreacting only makes it worse. I know, thanks to all this, that everything really IS okay in the end, and things that seem to end badly aren’t ever over if you realize you’re better because of them.
I’ve become a better leader. Well, I’ve become a leader. I figured out what it means to lead by example and do the right thing when no one will ever know the difference. More than that, I’ve learned that leadership has nothing to do with a title or recognition, but is a character trait.
Drum corps taught me to take words for what they’re worth. Compliments. Criticisms. Insults. And praise. And even moreso, promises. Politicians come in disguise and so do preachers and mentors. Nothing said to you should bear any more weight than what you hear yourself say.
I’ve almost learned to be overly positive, despite the 22 years of pessimism behind me. I know that perception is reality and, regardless of how you actually feel, an optimistic disposition (real or fabricated) can go a long way. Even within yourself, the way positives and negatives are weighted can completely change an experience before it even starts. Unfortunately, with this understanding comes a complete intolerance for negativity, but I don’t doubt that it is something I’ll learn to look past.
This has helped me learn the art of being time efficient and organized. As small a part as it seems, it changes the way you think and arrange your life around you. Also, I’ve realized that time restraints aren’t as bad as they seem and organized thinking is often more powerful and useful than special or chronological order.
Drum corps has definitely helped me learn to succeed beyond the assigned task. If better marching and musicianship were all I gained from this activity, I wouldn’t be writing this letter. In every challenge I face, I’ll know to aim for more than just completion. I’ll look for ways to better myself and take as much as I can from it.
I understand how to be respectful, giving respect even to those who I don’t think deserve it, even to those who don’t give it to me.
I understand graciousness and the importance of acknowledging those who have come before me. I hope that someday, someone else will understand that and recognize the sacrifices that this generation has made.
I’ve learned what it means to truly sacrifice. Not to give up my summers and weekend, but to miss important family milestones, hoping that they’ll understand. Not to pay $1,000 in dues, but to come up with another $1,400 to fly to a three-day camp from across the country once a month. Not to give up my time, but to devote my life and everything in it to one passion.
I’ve realized the differences between scolding, correcting, criticizing and helping. And when which one is most effective.
One of the most consequential lessons I’ve learned here is to push through. The words, “give up” have just about disappeared from my vocabulary and I dare life to hand me a circumstance in which I’ll break down and use them. Every limit I’ve met here, I’ve shattered. And I’ve seen so many people come so much farther than they ever believed they could. How could I possibly believe that limits even exist as anything more than a concept created and designed to slow you down?
There were so many days that I was convinced were just too hot. Times I knew my shoulder wouldn’t last another rep. A number of push-ups that at the end of the night I knew were just too many. Times when people abandoned us/me and I couldn’t see going on. Circumstances that seemed simply insurmountable. But I’m here now; able to say that not one of those things knocked me down hard enough to keep me from getting right back up.
Thinking and looking back now from this point, it all seems so crazy and somewhat pointless in a way. But somewhere between the rookie talent nights, the almost-to-camp jitters, the crowded bus aisles, the underwear run-throughs, the November hype, loading the truck, the carbocaine shots and the sunscreen, this became a lot more.
I’m coming from this knowing more than how to march 4/5 in three or how to fill my cup with one hand. I’ve got more than a workout, an awesome tan and big muscles. I’ve come to understand what a true passion is. A selfless and unforgiving burn to just keep going. The skill of committing.
The character shown through unbudging loyalty. The satisfaction of looking at yourself from the outside, knowing you’re doing something for all the right reasons. In all, a passion.
Something that you don’t expect anyone to understand, but when someone does, there’s no reason to explain. Something that you could never justify and if you were ever asked to, a small chuckle might be most fitting.
I realize now more than ever that it truly isn’t the destination, but the journey that should be cherished. Although I’m faced with a somewhat bittersweet closing chapter, I’m not certain I’d rewrite the story at all if I could. This long and grueling, taxing journey has brought me to this place at this moment in this stage of my life and I know it’s where I’m meant to be.
Thinking this way makes me wonder why we have judges, boxes and ticks. Why so many people get caught up in the numbers. Counting all I’ve lost, learned and been through, there’s so much more than that. How could I let the perceived “success” or “failure” of this chapter of my life be determined by the opinions of eight or 10 guys in green polo shirts formulated in 11 minutes?
We all must be a little bit crazy or this activity wouldn’t still be around after all these years. Or maybe ever since the beginning, people have gotten as much out of it as I have and been able to convince themselves and others that it’s all worth it in the end. Either way, it is worth it, even if sitting on a cold locker room floor at 1:30 in the morning may make that hard to see.
One last lesson I hope to take from drum corps is the art of saying goodbye.
I’ve never been comfortable with change or moving on. And God knows that stepping off the field for the last time will be one of the saddest moments of my life. But with all I’ve learned and the person I’ve become, I don’t see how it could knock me down too hard. Drum corps will always be a part of my life, whether I’m marching, teaching or just a fan. This is just the end of one of those books. Before long it’ll be time to peel back a whole new cover. I only pray that I will continue to both learn and grow as well as sacrifice and give to this phenomenal activity.
So thank you. God bless this organization, this corps, these people, and these opportunities. They’ve made me the person I am today and taught me more than I ever could’ve imagined the first time I set foot in the Votech in November of 1998.
Peggy Smires, Jersey Surf cymbals 1999, 2001-2004